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Creative and Thoughtful Strategies forImplementing Learning Standards

The following excerpt, adapted from Gaye Gronlund’s book Make Early LearningStandards Come Alive: Connecting Your Practice and Curriculum to State Guide-tines, serves as a good introduction to the many challenges and opportunities thatearly learning standards present to early chiidhood educators. The excerpt, andour full cluster of articles on these standards, is especialiy pertinent now that aii 50states and the District of Columbia have adopted eariy learning standards relatedto language, literacy, and math for 3- to 5-year-olds.

Standards, Standards Ev^erywherd

In the field of early childhood education,standards are the buzz. There are standards thatdetermine the number oí children recommendedfor each teacher in a room. There are standardsfor the types of learning preschool children shouldexperience. And there are child outcome standards,standards that define what young children shouldbe learning.

Facts about early learning standards

Just what are early learning standards for pre-school children? The Early Childhood EducationAssessment Consortium of the Council of ChiefState School Officers (CCSSO) defines early learningstandards as follows:

Statements that describe expectations Eor the learn-ing and development of young children across thedomains of: health and physical well-being; social andemotional well-being; approaches to learning; lan-guage development and symbol systems; and generalknowledge about the world around them. (2005)

In many states, the early learning standards arecorrelated in some way with elementary and highschool educational standards. All have manyfeatures in common and are based on generallyaccepted knowledge of child development. The dif-ferences lie in the formatting or the inclusion of spe-cific content or developmental areas. The numberof items included in the identified standards alsovaries widely (Scott-Little, Kagan, & Frelow 2005).

Standards for children younger than kindergartenage differ from those for older children because

the primary tasks of young children are to acquire andrefine foundational skills—skills that will help them suc-cessfully learn the content and information in the latergrades. Young children are learning to listen, to workwith others, to use their language to express themselves,and to dedicate their attention and energies to specificactivities. “In early childhood, the development of thesefoundational skills (skills that lay the foundation forlater learning) is just as important as mastery of contentmatter” (Bodrova, Leong, & Shore 20Ü4, 5). Therefore, itis recommended that early learning standards includesocial/emotional development, physical development,and approaches to learning in addition to traditionalcontent areas associated with schooling (Scott-Littie,Kagan, & Frelow 2005).

Benefits and potential problems ofearly learning standards

There are many benefits to early learning standards.There are also potential problems and abuses in the waysthey are used. Eirst, consider the following benefits:

• They reinforce the fact that there is an incrediblepotential for learning and growth in the infant, toddler,and preschool years and that there is value and impor-tance in providing quality early childhood programs forchildren’s long-term success in school and in life.

• They help establish expectations for children at differ-ent ages and create a commonality for communicationabout children’s accomplishments and capabilities.

• They provide a framework for accountability—a wayfor early educators to show parents, the community at

Young C/i//dren* July 2008

large, and themselves just what children are learningin early childhood programs.

• Learning standards and developmentally appropri-ate practices can indeed go together! No change inpractices is necessary. Learning standards can beincorporated into play, into emergent curriculum andprojects, and into small and large group times.

In their position statement titled “Early LearningStandards: Creating the Conditions for Success,”the National Association for the Education of YoungChildren (NÂEYC) and the National Association ofEarly Childhood Specialists in State Departmentsof Education (NAECS/SDE) note: “By defining thedesired content and outcomes of young children’seducation, early learning standards can lead to

Learning standards can be incorporated intoplay, into emergent curriculum and projects,and into small and large group times.

greater opportunities for positive development and learning inthese early years” (2002, 2). And who would not agree that as asociety we indeed want greater opportunities for young children?If early learning standards can help us do more to reach thisgoal, then bring them on!

Throughout the field of education, however, there is cause forconcern about how these standards are used. The NAEYC andNAECS/SDE position statement warns that there are



Practical and research based, T E A C H I N G Y O U N G C H I L D R E Ncelebrates and supports everyone who works with preschoolers.

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educational and developmental risks for vulnerableyoung children if standards are not weil developed andimplemented…. Thus, a test of the value of any standardseffort is whether it promotes positive educational and develop-mental outcomes and whether it avoids penalizing or exclud-ing children from needed services and supports. (NAEYC &NAECS/SDE 2002, 2)

At a session sponsored by the Massachusetts Departmentof Education at the 2004 NAEYC Annual Conference, a groupof early educators created the following list of pros andcons about the implementation of early learning standards.

Pros to early learning standards

• They can provide richness to our conversations aboutchildren’s growth and learning.

• We can match standards to what we are already doing.

• They can be linked to primary standards so that we areindeed contributing to school readiness.

• They help us identify next steps and transitions.

• They are a strategy for professionalizing our field.

• They help us communicate across the grades, amongourselves, and with our public.

• They help us to have higher expectations for children.

• They result in authentic assessments tied to standards.

• They provide accountability to us.

Cons to early learning standards

• They lead to teaching to the standards only in a cookiecutter style curriculum. Then the uniqueness oí early child-hood education is lost.

• They bring a pressure of accountability with the risk of apush-down in curriculum and inappropriate expectationsfor younger children.

• Direct instruction is assumed as the only way to guaran-tee that standards are addressed. The children’s learning inself-directed, exploratory ways is not trusted.

• They can contribute to a “we/they” mentality betweenpreschool and elementary teachers.

• They take time for early educators to leam and workthrough, to figure out how to integrate into good practices.There is a need for reflection and interaction among col-leagues in order to do so.

• They can result in testing and other inappropriate assess-ment methods being used.

• There is little money to support education and training ofearly educators in the standards and how best to use them.

Making the best use of standards

Yes, early learning standards can be beneficial as well asbe misused. How do early educators, then, make the best useof them and still remain true to best practices, to the needsof young chiidren. to the philosophy of DevelopmentallyAppropriate Practice, and to doing what’s right for children?

12 Young Children’My 2008

How can teachers use early learningstandards in ways that are beneficialto the children? How can they

• implement the standards in a waythat is developmentally appropriateand good for the children?

• figure out reasonable and efficientways to assess the children’s progresstoward the standards?

• be accountable without testing,without feeling like they are failingchildren, without feeling overwhelmedhy the pressures and expectationsof state agencies, political and fund-ing bodies, and the public at large toproduce outcomes, to track children’sprogress, and to increase their suc-cess in school?

• take good care of young childrenand help them to grow and learn andflourish?

— Gaye Gronlund


Bodrova. E.. D. Leong, & R. Shore. 2004. Childoutcome .standards in pre-K programs: Whatare standards: what is needed to make themwork? Preschool Policy Matters 5 CMarch): 1-12.

Early Childhood Education Assessment Con-sortium, Council of Chief State School Offi-cers. 2005. The words we use: A glossary o(terms for early childhood education stan-dards and assessment,

NAEYC & N M ; C S / S D E (National Association olEarly Childhood Specialists in State Depart-ments of Education). 2002. Joint positionstatement. Early learning standards: Creatingthe conditions for success,

Scott-Uttle. C, S.L. Kagan, & VS. Frelow. 2005.Inside the content: The breadth and depth ofearly learning standards. Greensboro, NC:Regional Educational Laboratory at SERVE.www. ser loads/publications/I ns idecontentfr.pdf

Excerpt adapted from G. Gronlund, Make EarlyLearning Standards Come Alive: ConnectingYour Practice and Curriculum to State Guide-lines (St. Paul, MN: Redleaf: Washington,DC: NAEYC. 2006). 1-6, Copyright © 2006Gaye Gronlund. Reprinted with permission ofRedleaf Press. Available from NAEYC.

THE AUTHORS OF THE ARTICLES IN THIS CLUSTERhelp to answer Gaye Gronlund’s queries by describingcreative and thoughtful strategies for implementing learn-ing standards. They share deveiopmentaily appropriatestrategies that support children in achieving the goals setin learning standards.

In “Got Standards? Don’t Give Up on Engaged Learn-ing!” Judy Harris Helm provides a framework teacherscan use to plan and implement engaging learning experi-ences that allow children to achieve standards and learnrequired knowledge and skills.

Jennifer Benson and Jennifer Leeper Miller, authorsof “Experiences in Nature: A Pathway to Standards,”show how teachers can use nature explorations to imple-ment learning standards for toddlers and preschoolers.Through a series of vignettes, they demonstrate howchildren’s explorations in the natural world can meetmultiple standards.

“A Bat, a Snake, a Cockroach, and a Fuzzhead: UsingChildren’s Literature to Teach about Positive CharacterTraits,” by Julia Kara-Soteriou and Heather Rose,describes their use of children’s literature to focus onpositive character traits and to address learning stan-dards for second-graders. The authors include suggestedadaptations teachers can make to offer similar learningexperiences for younger children.

Walter F. Drew, James Christie, James E. Johnson,Alice M. Meckley, and Marcia L. Nell, authors of “Con-structive Play: A Value-Added Strategy for Meeting EarlyLearning Standards,” present three principles for usingconstructive play to meet early learning standards. Theyemphasize the important role of teachers in connectingchildren’s play and exploration with learning standards.

— Deny Koraiek, Editor in Chief

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